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Power outage causes sewage spills; San Diego area beaches closed

September 9, 2011 |  1:55 pm

Click here for more photos of the blackout.The widespread Southern California power outage Thursday cut electricity to wastewater pumps and released more than 2 million gallons of sewage into the ocean, closing 10 miles of San Diego County shoreline.

Beaches from the Scripps Pier in La Jolla north to Solana Beach have been posted with signs warning of sewage contamination and will be closed to swimmers through the weekend, county health officials said.

A pump station started overflowing after losing power about 5:50 p.m. Thursday and spilled 1.9 million gallons of sewage into Los Penasquitos Lagoon, emptying into the ocean at Torrey Pines State Beach, said Mark McPherson, chief of land and water quality for the San Diego County Department of Environmental Health.

PHOTOS: Blackout leaves millions without power

The spill was stopped 3-1/2 hours later when power was restored.

A second pump station failed during the outage and discharged 120,000 gallons of sewage into the Sweetwater River, which flows into San Diego Bay, McPherson said.

Health officials have closed several swimming areas nearby and a public access area on Silver Strand in Coronado.

The beaches will not be reopened until they test above state health standards for at least two days in a row. "It's a pretty large dry-weather spill," McPherson said. Pump stations do not have backup electricity and have no capacity to store sewage that builds up during an outage, he added.

The power failure caused an even larger spill south of the Mexican border, where Baja California authorities reported a pump station lost power and sent 3.8 million gallons of sewage into the Tijuana River.

San Diego County health officials have been sent to investigate that spill, but don't anticipate closing nearby Imperial Beach because the river doesn't typically flow to the ocean this time of year.


FULL COVERAGE: Southern California blackout

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Power company employee caused massive blackout, utility says

-- Tony Barboza in San Diego

Photo: A beach closure sign is posted Friday morning on Del Mar beach due to fear of contamination caused by massive power outage. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times